You Look Great, Did You Lose Weight?

One_lucky_butchNo, I lost my breasts. Except that I can’t really say that. I can’t easily explain, to someone who barely knows me, that I did lose weight, but they are probably noticing that I had top surgery (in December 2014) and then I went out and bought clothes that fit me. I lost some weight, but mostly I lost my shame. Not all of it, but a healthy chunk.

My dentist was the most recent person to ask me “You look great, did you lose weight?” He is a middle-aged straight white guy. He looks like he is in good shape. I imagine he has an easy life, but all I know about him is that he lives in the suburbs and took over the dental practice when his father retired. We mostly discuss my teeth. He is big on flossing.

He told me to “keep on doing whatever it is you are doing” and I was tempted to explain just what it is that I’m doing. He was picking up on something, but it eluded him. My transition is only visible if you know what you are looking for.

The gracious thing to say is “Thank you, I feel great.” and move on, but I hate when people bring up my weight. His statement implied that I used to look overweight, uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfashionable (true on all counts). He might have meant to pay me a compliment, but instead he fat shamed me. I don’t want it to be all about the weight.

For fifty years I put up with all kinds of fat shaming. Most of it from my mother. All of it unsolicited. From the “You’d be so pretty if you lost weight” to “I’m only concerned about your health” to “You’ll never lose weight if you eat so much bread.” Shame is not a good motivator. I didn’t do anything about my weight for years. I didn’t want to diet and I didn’t want to be pretty. I just wanted the problem to go away and for everyone else to shut up about it already.

If I look “great”, it is because I lost the weight of all that shame. It took me a long time to realize that weight wasn’t my problem, it was my solution to not wanting to be a girl. It was there for a reason. For me, shame and overeating go together.

I’ve come across many “tips for trans men” – mostly young guys giving advice to other young guys. The top three tips are to lose weight and lower your body fat percentage (eliminate curves), work out (to build up your back, chest, and shoulder muscles), and wear mens/boys clothes that fit (don’t wear baggy clothes). These tips did not work for me until I accepted the limitations of my body, got top surgery, and exorcised my shame.

butch-belly-rubSlowly, my envy of other trans bodies has faded. I’m solid instead of lanky. I’m not willing to put in the effort to get lean and buff. I have the body of a short middle-aged transgender butch who goes to the gym intermittently and is not (yet?) on testosterone. I could do better, but I no longer feel compelled to compare my body to everyone else’s. Trans or cis.

The pictures that I chose for this post illustrate dangerous (tobacco) and harmless (belly trimming) weight loss regimens from the 1930’s. I am curious whether fifty years from now everything I am doing will look as ridiculous.

Notes: This is a good article on fat shaming and fatphobia, from xojane. Although it is not specific to the LGBT community, it is relevant to anyone who has dysphoria. This article, “19 Men Go Shirtless And Share Their Body Image Struggles” should be titled “19 Cisgender Men…” but is otherwise very interesting. Lastly, I found a sweet site on Tumblr called chubbytubbytrans, which needs no further description.

20 thoughts on “You Look Great, Did You Lose Weight?

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Almost any compliment can be read as an insult, but weight is particularly loaded since there is a whole culture of pathologizing overweight people and believing that you can’t look great and be overweight at the same time. Or that losing weight will solve all of your problems.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for the reblog, I’m not particular or sensitive about my pronouns! My partner is more comfortable with she (although technically I prefer they), and I don’t get bent out of shape about it unless the speaker is dripping with sarcasm or hostility (Ma’am on the other hand really bothers me).

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      1. jerbearinsantafe

        I’m glad I didn’t offend you. I have been using they myself for nearly a year. It’s strange, if I don’t really concentrate my brain defaults to patterns I learned decades ago. So I am definitely forgiving if someone slips up. It’s not always easy being nonbinary in a very binary culture!

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  1. J.D.

    I got complimented the first day I wore a binder. She didn’t ask if I lost weight but I’m sure she figured that was why I looked “great”. I thought I would run into ‘compliments’ like this after top surgery but no one has said anything. I’m already ashamed enough of my fat that I am thrilled if someone notices a loss. The problem I’ve run into more often is people who compliment me on a supposed loss when I am certain I have gained weight since the last time I saw them.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think people see something and automatically go to weight loss as the likely possibility. Top surgery just must look subtle to people who are unfamiliar with it.

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  2. MainelyButch

    You have given me new insight on “fat shaming”…I never thought of it this way, when I tell someone they look great, perhaps I am insinuating that they did not look so good last time I saw them? OMG I am screwed…I do this all the time thinking it’s a compliment, when now I can see that it can be sort of a back-handed insult. I must change how I word things.

    Since my own chest surgery I have gotten lots of “you look great” and “you lost weight” comments as well, and like you I can’t come out and say “yeah, like breast weight!” But it makes me smile nonetheless because they are noticing “something” and perhaps it’s my new self-confidence and the way I don’t slouch my shoulders to hide my chest anymore. I definitely walk more confidently, stand taller and feel….great! 🙂 ~Peace! ~MB~

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  3. Suites

    I had this happen to me post top surgery as I was in school. I took leave for 2 months…Because of the surgery and my lack of appetite I did end up losing about 15 pounds while healing up. It did make me feel some type of way when people said “OMG you lost SO much weight” I thought what the hell! was I a house before? You will get past it though…keep your head up

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think top surgery is so off most peoples radar that unless they saw the scars it would never occur to them that people do it. It is just weird that people notice but can’t see what is (or is not) right in front of them.

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  4. The Final Rinse

    I am happy that your top surgery has helped you to build confidence in yourself.
    I have become very aware of people who use compliments as part of their shaming ways. No compliment is ever really a compliment, it actually means “well, finally you are doing as I think you should do.”
    I feel fortunate that my parents were never too pushy about my personal ways. My father, a super college athlete and later coach, could have been much more pushy about me. My mother once told my spouse (she would never have told this to me) that they had made a conscious choice to simply raise all of us three kids as survivors (of course my parents had lived through the depression and came to recognize the value of being able to survive). By the time we were each in our teens, they knew that we were. This was a tough upbringing, but it was not cruel.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Surviving is good, but thriving is better. I don’t think my parents were too conscious of what they were doing. They were very concerned with us “assimilating” into the mainstream – and it must have been pretty obvious early on that I wasn’t a good candidate for Jewish American Princess. My parents were born in 1928 and 1929, so also very thrifty and big savers. I fortunately did absorb the mantra of live under your means, and although you will be hard pressed to get me to say anything nice about my mother, I am glad I did learn about household budgeting, saving, and credit cards from her.

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  5. anexactinglife

    I am careful about compliments as well, especially anything to do with physical appearance, and especially at work. At one time I lost 25 lbs on Weight Watchers and was a bit mystified that my co-workers hadn’t commented. I finally told one of them, “I lost 25 pounds,” and she said, “On purpose?” Apparently they had thought I was stressed out over my new job! I think it’s really hard to comment on appearance without implying that the person didn’t look as good before. I try to say more about what people have been doing or their personal qualities, attitude, etc: “You’re looking happy today!” On the other hand, this may have backfired with my kid. By not commenting much, I may have implied disapproval without meaning to.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      In general I have a hard time accepting personal compliments; I can accept them at work and when I cook. Donna has learned not to say anything to me about my weight or what I am eating in relationship to my weight.
      By trial and error I’ve learned what comments Donna likes (she likes it when I tell her she has made an interesting point or raised an important issue I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise), and Gracie seems to be happy with “Good girl!!” said in as high and squeaky a voice as I can muster. It is definitely a individual thing.

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  6. Lesboi

    Like others here I’ve never really thought about this before in this way. I get complimented so rarely about my appearance that my first thought is that the person needs glasses but it usually makes me feel pretty good to get the compliment. My guess is that now that you’re feeling better about yourself and not hiding parts of your body so much you look happier and more confident which always makes a person seem more attractive.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I know, but the truth is (now that you have made me think about it) that one of the reasons it bothers me is it seems feminizing to say “you lost weight” – it the “woman on a diet” thing that I have hated since I was first served cottage cheese. I’d rather they say “you must have put on muscle”! Someday…..

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  7. micah

    You make a great point, our culture is riddled with unspoken standards and exclusions.

    As I transitioned, I did start getting more of these compliments. They can be about my weight, because I have been very gradually slimming down over the years, but not necessarily. Sometimes a person will just say “wow, you look so much better than last time I saw you” without knowing why. It’s just the inner glow of really starting to feel comfortable in myself.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think it is more difficult for people to see the subtle changes (if you can call top surgery subtle) – my “before and after” pictures are not at all dramatic. There are no pictures of me actually looking like a genuine adult female – my transition is more of a 30° instead of a 180° shift. But I am less anxious and more relaxed, and people do pick up on that.

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